6 January 2019 | AlsExGal
Cue the parade of tragedy tropes
This film starts off with the 100th birthday of the matriarch of the Herries family, which traces its origin back to "Rogue" Herries in the 1700s, who sounds like some kind of William Wallace character with a very wild streak. The matriarch (Madame Judith Paris played by May Robson) talks about how every now and again another rogue is born into this now respectable family. Cue the late entry to the party of dashing Benjamin Herries (Robert Montgomery) as that implied spiritual heir of Rogue Herries, also cue the figure of Vanessa Paris, Judith's granddaughter,, looking like her heart just leapt in her chest.
So Benjamin and Vanessa are in love, but Benjamin wants a year to travel the world and get that wild streak out of him before settling down. Distant cousin Ellis Herries (Otto Kruger) is in love with Vanessa and is the settled type who can offer her a lifetime of security and boredom. So Benjamin returns a year later, and he and Vanessa agree to marry, and this is when the parade of tragedy tropes begin to occur.
Some of the tragedies are foreseeable, some are downright predictable, but then the oddball ones begin to pile on to the point that the entire thing becomes ridiculous. Two things really stand out as not ridiculous but rather weird. The first one is Guinness Book of World Records weird. May Robson is playing a woman of 100 in the late 19th century when this film starts. It is not said exactly, but I count about 15 years passing, and yet the woman is still alive at the end, walking on her own power, and in complete control of her mental faculties. The second one - I guess you'd just have to be British. There is everybody just fawning over and falling over one another at just the appearance of any British royal - Prince Edward and Queen Victoria in particular. Oh well, I guess if you spent the latter part of the 20th century watching "Windsors behaving badly" it does just not seem such a big deal to see somebody whose claim to fame is nothing more than exiting the right birth canal.
What saves this one? The acting skills of the fiery Robson, the dashing Robert Montgomery, and the versatile Hayes in particular, and the strength of the supporting cast of MGM stalwarts in general. I also liked how the film did not try to falsely paint Helen Hayes, primarily a stage actress, as some kind of great beauty. Montgomery, towards the end, as Benjamin, actually states that it is not that Vanessa (Hayes' character) is beautiful, it is just that overall she has a unique kind of loveliness.
This is probably a take it or leave it proposition for most people, but if you are a Robert Montgomery completist as I am, you'll probably want to see it once.